This was the first time I had ever volunteered and my first trip to Africa. Needless to say I was a little nervous and slightly concerned about my ability to cope with living in an Orphanage for 3 weeks. Well, I shouldn’t have been apprehensive in any way; it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.
I arrived at Mombasa Airport, having navigated Kenyan customs with Mama Mary’s expert advice, and was welcomed at the airport by GLO’s driver Abbas (buddy to countless volunteers). Driving through the streets of Mombasa, as we made our way to the Orphanage, I could see what a beautiful country I would spend the next 3 weeks in.
Having wound our way through the dusty roads and avoiding countless potholes, I saw the bright blue roofs of the Good Life Orphanage framed by blue skies and soaring palm trees. I couldn’t have been welcomed more warmly, Madame Mercy and Madame Vikki were there to give me the guided tour. I was met with a flurry of high fives and beaming smiles from the children. I was introduced to everyone including what would be ‘my house’ for my stay, O’Malley House. There I was greeted by my new Kenyan Mamma, Florence, Aunty Agnes and all my new little brothers and sister and very quickly GLO became my home.
One of my most memorable days was spent at St Bernadette & St Mary School’s end of year ceremony. The whole day was such a joyful celebration of the achievements of the children, and offerings of thanks for their free education (something I later learned quite unheard of in Kenya.) Sat in the searing heat, in the immaculate gardens of the School, the children performed little plays, dances and singing. The singing was like nothing I’d ever heard, I had to bite my lip so not to cry, it was so overwhelming.
The children were so smart in their uniforms, and the kindergarten children could not have looked cuter in their graduation gowns and hats. Every one of them proud as punch to receive their end of year certificates. It was clear these children understand only too well the importance going to school and what their education means for them and their family. I got to know the teachers and head teacher Madame Sharon throughout my stay, not only are the teachers the nicest, most fun bunch of people I could have met but their dedication to the school and the children is unparalleled. What lucky pupils they are to have these wonderful people guide them through their education.
The Good Life Orphanage provides such a happy, safe, loving home but this was really bought home when I went out to the villages to see the local families. Seeing how these families struggle to provide for their children, living in mud huts, five to a bed, perhaps one meal a day, I began to realise that in many ways the children at the orphanage, although having been through unimaginable horrors, are the lucky ones. They will go through their young lives never having to worry where the next meal comes from, not having to consider giving up their education to support their families and they know they are unconditionally loved, in a safe place.
At the Orphanage, much of my time was spent with my house and the O’Malley children. We spent lots of evenings drawing, colouring in and reading together. It was wonderful to see children so excited and content with the simplest of games. (I also taught them thumb war, but probably shouldn’t mention that, sorry Mama Florence!) I was able spend time with the other houses and got to know all the children, each and every one a little character; cheeky, shy, naughty, entertaining. They have the biggest personalities of any children.
One little boy Lawrence, might have the biggest personality of any child in the world. Most volunteers fall for Lawrence, and I was no different. This little boy who wasn’t given any hope to live is now the brightest little button, and boy does he live! His laugh can be heard booming around the GLO. Most mornings I would be greeted by “BETTY!” being screamed at me as I walked through the gardens. I spent time with Lawrence and his Mama Lucy and saw the absolute determination and hard work that has gone into providing Lawrence with the care he needs so that he might walk on his own.
I helped him with his daily walks around the Orphanage in his leg braces. It’s quite unbelievable this little three year old has been through so much in his short life and yet is the most strong willed, funniest, bravest boy I have ever met and am likely to ever meet. His story, for me, is what sums up GLO. Rescued by Mama Mary and Papa Kevin, he now thrives and will go on to great things, of that I’m in no doubt.
I left GLO with a heavy heart and floods of tears. On my return to London everything seemed so grey and dull, and life a little bit less fun! Like other volunteers have said, it so hard to process the experience of volunteering, but I know that spending time at GLO gives you a wonderful perspective on life, to be grateful for everything you have and realise there is so much that can be done to help others.
For anyone who thinks like I did, “I’ve always wanted to do something like that” I promise you, there is no better place to volunteer than the Good Life Orphanage. To be given the opportunity to know Mama Mary, Papa Kevin, Madame Mercey, Madame Vikki, Uncle Hemed, Madame Sharon, my buddy Abbas and all the children at GLO is the greatest of honours. You will feel safe, welcomed and part of something so incredibly magical.
So thank you GLO & See you next year!